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Renée, my most significant other, is part of the organizing team for a classic car rally. The organizing team’s history runs through at least two named annual events. The transition between the events commenced with a spectacular (but mostly private) meltdown with the initial car club, eased through a tentative period of self-sponsorship, and has blossomed into its current existence as a “Let’s try to carry one penny over from tax year to tax year” volunteer-run endeavor. It’s now free of car club politics, but also without car club support. It has plenty of car people support, which is what really matters.

Inside the organizing team, the chairman and chief organizer is ex-military, with a love for regulation but also a delight in freedom. The multi-year rallymaster is a rally genius, with a mental catalog of tricks and traps, each graded according to difficulty, and deployed in just the right measure for the classic-rally audience. The treasurer/registrar is a warm-hearted detail-oriented enabler. She’ll get the money that’s owed, but she’ll also advocate for letting late-cancellers off the hook so long as the books support it. The participating vehicles are, after all, 30+ years old. Things happen.  The remainder of the rally staff contribute their combined brilliance to produce events which are preternaturally polished. Happily, Renée’s role keeps her isolated from route information, so we’re able to compete in the event as well as working on it.

It may not be old, but it’s a classic.

Hmmm. We’re competing in the event? And in nothing newer than an ’89? Better figure out what to drive…

But really, all we need to do is figure out what kind of rallyists we are. In time-speed-distance rallying, there are competitors who obsessively pursue “zeroes” (perfect scores at controls where the team arrives neither early nor late), and in support of that pursuit, often run in reliable-but-boring machinery. There are also competitors who are happy just to find their way to each control, and tickled to wind up the end of the rally before the main time control (MTC) closes. And there are those for whom the rally is mostly an excuse to exercise the car. Maybe they’ll do well, timing-wise, but the primary achievement is finishing under their own power.

Rally heaven: Highway 30 through the Columbia Gorge.

I’ve been to rallies where Type 1 predominated (the Arizona 1000 and any USRRC), but I never got the urge to join that crowd. Hyper-technical traps that leave no room for delays or even scenery appreciation? Yuck. I was bored when I was not exasperated. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy precision as much as the next sufferer, but over the years, precison’s proven insufficient—by itself—to stimulate me. I got into this game because I like cars, mechanisms, and machinery, not just math and metronomes. I rented a reliable-but-boring car for the Arizona 1000; I will never do that again. When rallying becomes only about time, and speed, and distance, it’s gone wide of the mark. There’s a lacuna there; a car rally should also be about revs, the amount of body lean, and the sound of the exhaust, right?

Better get a bucket—a drool bucket.

We were, in our early days, just happy to find the controls and finish the rally. We marveled at the people who’d already mastered the TSD portion and wanted more spice, or whose main motivator for showing up was to prove, to confirm, to reinforce that the car could make it through. But gradually we graduated, and our innate love for the machines came forward. Then we found our true tribe: the exercise-the-car crowd. When a rally route becomes not-challenging-enough to keep the pace in a Subaru WRX, the car-exercising crowd decides to bring their Volvo PV544 instead. Sure, it’s romantic when you arrive in the parking lot with a vintage SAAB (I do so miss the Swedish Fireball team), or an ’80’s Audi and its certain electrical issues, or some manner of aging Japanese sports coupe that must be tarpaulined at night to keep the cabin dry. But you’re absolutely multiplying the challenge when you run with old equipment.

Haha! In a classic-car rally, you’re all running old equipment! Anything we bring will fit that bill.

The 3 Series firestarter makes a fine vintage-rally ride.

All righty, then; what shall it be? We’ve got a choice between a ’66 Mustang 2+2 (in Wimbledon White, with an aftermarket five-speed), or the noble E30, so new it barely makes the classic-class cutoff. Shall we take the 54-year-old Pony Car or the 30-year-old BMW 325iX?

Keep in mind that it’s a mere (grimace) 1,400 miles to the start of the rally. For the competitive rally itself, the iX has an advantage, a key advantage, in this weighing: It has a trip odometer. If we run the rally without that nicety, it’ll make every Car Zero Time point a crisis. Without a trip odo, the in-car conversation goes like this: “The routebook says start at 11:05 a.m. at Leg Mileage 0.00, but our odometer reads 42,356 and about four-tenths: quick, adjust all the mileages.

Compare that with, “Okay, we’re at the Leg Start. Zero the trip odometer. Cool; we’re out in three minutes and change.

Plus, working air-conditioning in the 325iX. Oh, Oregon is temperate year-round, mostly, but that’s mostly; in late June, in the foothills of in the Cascade Mountains, Sol delivers. The sun’s heat is not a thing to be disregarded.  So it’s clear, then; we should take the BMW out, yes?

I’m rather partial to this one.

Well, it would’ve been clear… but then I dropped a shelf on the Mustang.

I was messing about in the garage, and before I knew what was happening, a tall metal shelf rack was slamming against the rear left side of the Ford, spilling its contents (including an XL-sized scissors jack) onto and across the trunk of the car: horrible sound, horrible feeling. After righting the shelf unit, I confessed to Renée immediately (the car’s been in her family since it was new) and proposed that it, too, should go with us to Portland for repairs. We’ve a trusted bodyman/artist there.

So that means… we should take… both cars.

Right! Let’s drive two really old cars to the coast. What could go wrong? Well, first, of course, there’s the pandemic: The rally might not even happen. Like most other events, Covid-19 threatened to block it. But somehow, in the face of car-event cancellations stacked up like cordwood, these classic-car rally organizers saw a sliver of daylight—and hope. They held their hotel block reservation rather than abandoning it; they deployed their rallymaster maestro to lay out a route just in case it might be used; they proceeded, in sum, as if the thing could happen. And just before the Summer Solstice, it seemed that their optimism (not to say pigheadedness) might be on-target: The Oregon counties where the rally would occur were just open enough to allow the gathering.

A fine classic finishes Second Overall.

Second, it’s 1,400 miles one-way. I’ve got reasonable “fix it ’til the next town” skills, but time was tight; we couldn’t tolerate long en-route delays for repairs. We therefore recruited a third driver, a ringer of sorts; his fix-it skills exceed my own. (I recall that he once spirited a date way, way, way up on Mt. Pilchuck in a vehicle past its prime, and when said vehicle scattered one of its CV joints up there, he jury-rigged a welding-slag hammer into an axle stop so that power could flow (at half the normal gear reduction) out the remaining CV joint into the other axle. He then both descended the hill and gained a Handyman Level Five badge from his date.

Just the dude we needed for this trip. Plus, he’s 6′-” with a high BMI, which seems to act as a calming force in many social situations. Lots of fusses evaporate when he’s around; definite road-trip material. (We were able to test this effect, or rather the absence of it, on our return trip to Colorado. In Ely, Nevada, we stumbled into a local production of Mask Wars, and the cast of the “anti” crowd was much more vocal around us than any we’d heard on the way west.)

The delight of rallying on deserted roads: oh, yeah.

After all the anticipation of trouble on the outbound journey, all that build-up and tension, the trip itself was easy. We ran up the Rockies to Wyoming, then over under the Tetons to Idaho, and finished the next day pulling into Portland. Zero problems, 100% scenery.

We did notice that Marilyn (our red iX) did not get her usual accolades from the motoring public when that Mustang was around. Something about the svelte American turns every eye, every waved hand, and every smile toward the muscle car. Maybe it’s the V8 rumble?

Finally, with the Mustang checked into the body shop, we dealt with last-minute rally business, then joined the fray as competitors bright and early on Saturday morning.

Black Magic

Here Marilyn shone, along with a delectable E28 M5, a delicious M6 Shark, a swoopy CS coupe, a tasty E36 M3, and more. I’ve sprinkled in some shots of the classic BMWs that were in attendance; I don’t think it’s disloyal to our car to admit I’d like to have all the others, too.

By the way, BMWs filled two-thirds of the podium.

All photos by Gregor Halenda. Find more images on SmugMug if you like ’em.—Marinus Damm

[Photos courtesy Gregor Halenda.]

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